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Correspondence

Wednesday, July 1, 1998

Hospitable Death

To the Editor:

"Hospice, Not Hemlock," by Joe Loconte, (Mar.–Apr. 1998), was informative and interesting but incomplete. So far, hospice has done an exemplary job of caring for cancer-ridden patients who live in middle-class communities and have family members who can provide primary care. This model, unfortunately, does not yet serve people who are poor or have other life-threatening illnesses, such as emphysema and HIV/AIDS.

Americans for Better Care of the Dying (ABCD), a nonprofit group, aims to fill that gap. We were created by Dr. Joanne Lynn, the principal co-investigator on the Robert Wood Johnson SUPPORT study, which demonstrated that poor communication be- tween patients and doctors can have a devastating effect on care at the end of life.

ABCD’s mission is three-fold: To educate the public and health-care professionals, to advocate government policies for good end-of-life care, and to create networks among the many organizations that serve the seriously ill and the dying. Our monthly newsletter, Exchange, describes programs and policies that affect end-of-life care. We recently described the work of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, which offers hospice-like care to people with AIDS who were previously homeless, and the Malachi House, a Cleveland program for homeless, dying people. These programs, and hundreds like them, strive each day to improve the life of the dying and to change the culture in which we die.

Janice Lynch Schuster
Americans for Better
Care of the Dying
Riva, Md.

 

To the Editor:

The scope and depth of Joe Loconte’s analysis of hospice care in a few short pages is a credit to him and your publication.

I have had the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary team meetings where all aspects of easing a patient’s suffering are discussed and a plan of action to address each aspect is drawn up. The implementation of that plan does make a difference. Although I have only been with Hospice of St. Francis since November, I have seen patients enter hospice expressing a desire to end their lives and eventually come to embrace life as fully as possible until they died. Your article succinctly portrayed that reality.

Bruce Wolters
Executive Director
Hospice of St. Francis
Titusville, Fla.

 

Standards, the Latest Fad

To the Editor:

As I struggled through my second year of teaching elementary school in Texas, I found it hard to read Tyce Palmaffy’s article, "The Gold Star State" (Mar.–Apr. 1998), which detailed the "success" of the standards and testing philosophy. Standards have been touted as education’s messiah, but the exact opposite is true.

First, teachers are forced to teach to the test. I have been told to forget about teaching anything that isn’t on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). Why? Because last year’s third-grade scores were low, so I need to concentrate on teaching these kids how to take this standardized test. To argue that the state has "decentralized" and now allows individual districts and schools to determine their own teaching strategies is silly. We must teach the content of the test exactly as it will be tested.

Second, accountability rests mainly with teachers and principals, not with students or district administrators. There are no real penalties for students who do not pass the TAAS test. This leaves students in a situation where they have no real incentive to take the test seriously, especially in the lower grades. And districts’ central offices have many people doing "administrative" tasks who do not face any pressure to perform, unlike teachers and principals.

Third, the accountability system rewards mediocrity and degrades hard work. Students take a test each fall to determine their level of achievement. In many affluent schools, it isn’t uncommon for 70 to 85 percent of the students to pass, meaning only 30 percent or less of the students have not reached an acceptable level five months before the actual test.

By contrast, my sixth-grade students were lucky to be working on a third- or fourth-grade level. In the fall, only 30 percent of my students passed. By the end of the year, only 40 percent of the students reached the passing level. My hard work was considered mediocre at best. But in analyzing the test scores from the year before, I realized that all of my students had made great strides, some as much as a 125 percent higher proficiency level than the year before. They had learned a year’s worth of knowledge plus 25 percent more. But my scores were not looked upon favorably. By rating schools based on actual scores and not progress, the Texas Education Agency does little to identify good teaching.

Fourth, the pressure on educators is so great that it creates a horrible working environment, in which teachers feel they need to cheat by asking students who are going to fail to stay home. It causes teachers to ignore the needs of special-education students who are exempt from the test. It makes us emphasize something we don’t view as a legitimate evaluation of our work. It’s making me look for another profession.

Standards don’t raise parental involvement levels. They don’t make students want to come to school. They don’t make students value academic performance. They don’t make up for the two- to three-year deficit many students have coming into school. They fall well short of realistic goals for students who want to be ready to tackle the job market or college. Real change comes when individual schools address individual problems in unique and innovative ways. Real change means giving them the freedom to do so, not handcuffing them with useless tests and a watered-down curriculum.

Eric Wyatt
Muncie, Ind.

 

To the Editor:

Texas’s improvement is admirable, but as long as schools remain in the hands of government, the accountability movement will merely be treating symptoms and not the illness. To understand the surgery our education system needs, one must consider how children’s needs are best met.

Excluding spiritual and emotional matters, which only parents can address, the actual physical and intellectual needs of a child consist mainly of six items: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, recreation, and education. In the United States, the first five items—food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and recreation—are unquestionably the best in the world. We have access to goods and services of the highest quality at the lowest prices. Compare these items to education, in which the United States consistently lags behind the rest of the world. What’s the difference?

Or rather, who’s the difference?

Who delivers food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and recreation to us and our children? Competitive markets. Who delivers education? Government.

Why do we rely on the free-enterprise system, the best delivery system known to man, to supply everything children need except education? If we really want to implement honest reform in our schools, let’s break the government’s monopoly on education and turn it over to the competitive marketplace. Only then will our schooling be as good as the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the homes we inhabit.

Jim H. Hill Jr.
Winston-Salem, N.C.

 

Crime in the Schools

To the Editor:

I am a former mathematics teacher from San Antonio, Texas. Last year, I quit in disgust after nine years in the San Antonio school district. I would like to communicate my support for Thaddeus Lott ("No Excuses," Jan.–Feb. 1998) and for direct instruction. It has worked everywhere it’s been tried. What is happening virtually everywhere else is criminal.

William J. Braund
Clifford, Ind.

 

Simply Shocking

To the Editor:

Steven Hayward’s recent article on welfare reform ("The Shocking Success of Welfare Reform," Jan.–Feb. 1998) was a devastating critique. It conclusively proved that we must find an alternative to the statist, socialist welfare solution to poverty. It proved that there are no programs more effective than the free market.

Not only has the current tax-and-spend program failed to elevate the less fortunate, it has trapped them where they are. Misguided—albeit warm-hearted—liberals have not only failed to weave an adequate safety net, they have managed to convince welfare recipients that our social programs are a way of life.

David A. Pendleton
Republican Minority Whip
Hawaii House of Representatives
Honolulu, Hawaii

 

The Next Conservative Frontier

To the Editor:

The infrequency of analyses such as Steven Hayward’s ("Broken Cities," Mar.–Apr. 1998) has been one cause of the urban disasters he recounts. Conservatives have ignored cities for years, giving liberals an unchecked monopoly on remedies for their decline. To curb the resulting excesses of the Left, the cities must become, in Hayward’s words, "the next major frontier for conservative policy."

We can heed his prudent warning against "conservative social engineering" by regarding cities not as laboratories for government testing of social theories, either liberal or conservative, but as businesses with a product to sell: their location. Cities must compete for the customers, businesses, and residents they are losing.

Give families and job creators what the suburbs offer: A secure environment, good schools and public services, and reasonable taxes and regulations. Then market city neighborhoods and business areas as skillfully as developers market new suburban subdivisions, business parks, and shopping malls.

The recent spread of a Republican liberalism in the suburbs—taking the form of expanding government, high property taxes, land-use regulations that can be even more stifling than those in the city, and citizen protests that stifle growth and development—offers cities an opening. As suburbs become ever more expensive and hostile to business and growth, cities could put out the welcome mat by adopting Hayward’s reforms and aggressively selling themselves. This could be a magnificent competitive opportunity for conservatives—and for cities.

John Gann Jr.
Glen Ellyn, Ill.

 

A Logic Lesson

To the Editor:

I find many of Policy Review’s articles provocative, smart, and worthwhile, but I found much of Norval Glenn's "A Textbook Case of Marriage-Bashing" (May–June 1998) silly at best and offensive at worst.

Rather than dissect the article paragraph by paragraph, let me focus on one mistake in logic. Glenn writes, "Because marriage appears regularly in every known human society, it must be beneficial to the individual or society or both." I am not certain where Glenn got his statistics, but I would be very surprised if, somewhere in the history of civilization, a society did not exist where marriage did not occur regularly.

That notwithstanding, I can hardly imagine a sillier argument than stating that because something has occurred everywhere, it must therefore be beneficial. I am certain that crime has existed everywhere, yet I cannot believe that Glenn would seriously argue, therefore, crime must be good.

Ellen Rosenfeld
via e-mail

 

Correction: In "Mrs. Colehill Thanks God for Privatized Social Security" (May–June 1997), author Stephen Glass accurately described a private Social Security system that has greatly benefited employees of three Texas counties since it was started in 1981. However, Policy Review regrets to inform its readers that quotations from three individuals who putatively benefited from this private system, including Wendy Colehill, appear to be fabrications.